NASM CPT 7th Edition Chapter 3: Psychology of Exercise
NASM CPT 7th Edition Chapter 3: Psychology of Exercise 1

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Chapter Goals:

  • Be able to describe the common reasons for why people avoid regular exercise.
  • Determine the various social influences on exercise adherence.
  • Recommend the better forms of support for helping clients adhere to exercise.
  • Find the psychological benefits associated with regular exercise.

The Role of Psychology in Fitness and Wellness

Psychology plays an essential role when it comes to fitness and wellness. It deals with many topics like the way exercise participation affects someone’s mood in the short and long term, the effects of weight loss and someone’s self-esteem, the motivations for becoming physically active, and how social influences affect overall behavior in exercise.

One of the best things to know as a trainer is how psychology affects the behavior change process.

The Science of Psychology

Psychology is focused on how the mind and feelings may influence some behaviors. It also examines the relationship between brain functionality and human behavior and the environmental effect on behavior.

Psychologists and psychiatrists are employed in many areas within healthcare, educational settings, counseling, law enforcement, and even athletics.


Motivation is the term used to describe the intensity and direction of someone’s efforts. Intensity is similar, but it refers to the amount of effort expended, and the direction is a term asking whether or not someone seeks out a behavior. 

Differences in motivation may be seen based on the culture, socioeconomic status, or the surrounding environment. 

When someone is not motivated to do something, it is referred to as amotivation.

If someone is amotivated to exercise, then they may not participate, or if they do, they only go through the motions without any sort of intensity or belief in positive outcomes that exercise may yield.

Extrinsic motivation is when the focus is on doing an activity for recognition like a trophy or some award. This relies on looking for something when a behavior is achieved.

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Intrinsic motivation is more associated with long-term adherence to adherence, and it is the motivation that comes from within a person. This is someone who does an activity for the sake of the activity and the enjoyment of participating in it. 

Most people actually have a combination of these two forms of motivation, so it is important not to focus on only one. 

Motivation differs greatly person to person and understanding this is useful for establishing and growing your client base.

Common Barriers to Exercise

There is overwhelming evidence that shows exercise done regularly will give people many benefits physically and psychologically, but there are still many barriers that we find to getting into exercise.

A barrier is anything that prevents a person from exercising, even it is one or many times that it occurs.

The fitness professional has the role of helping the clients to find the personal barriers and then to help them with strategies on overcoming those barriers. Barriers may be constant or one-time events.

The barriers people have will change as people get older and as their responsibilities shift.


This is cited as a barrier for many of the healthy behaviors like exercise, proper food intake, and overall management for stresses.

Balancing all of the things we do in our life can be a struggle, and this comes to the issue of time management. 

This is often seen as the greatest barrier for getting into the exercise world. 

One way to overcome the perceived barrier of lacking time is to help the clients address their approaches to managing time. 

Unrealistic Goals

Setting goals is vital when working with clients so that expectations are both realistic and challenging. The newer exercises will often fall into the trap of setting unrealistic goals and then getting frustrated when goals have not been met. 

There are two types of goals we can set. Outcome goals are ones where the focus is on the outcome, such as placing top 5 in a marathon. The other form of goal is a process goal where the focus is on the process you are working on like jogging for 45 minutes for 5 days out of the week.

Lack of Social Support

Social support refers to the intentional actions taken by people for the assistance of achieving some behavior. Lacking this support can make it hard to participate in regular exercise depending on the needed support.

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People who lack social support may lack these things:

  • Encouragement for participating in exercise
  • Someone who is able to discuss the challenges of exercise
  • Transportation to a gym
  • The ability to find good and accurate info on health and fitness
  • A partner for exercise

Social Physique Anxiety

This is when someone feels significant anxiety about their physical appearance, or they are insecure regarding how other people see them or they perceive their own body.


This is what everyone prefers and in general, most people are going to avoid any activity that is inconvenient. 


This happens when someone has mixed feelings regarding their situation.

There usually is a positive and negative component to the way a thing is perceived. For exercise, people believe it is generally good for them, but it cuts into time they could be spending in other areas of their life.

Social Influences on Exercise

There are many potential influences on overall exercise behavior, and this varies among people. Determining the social influences that are meaningful for a person will help to explain the role that the influences might play in regard to exercise behavior.

These social influences are often present in exercise behavior, and these can lead to and away from structured exercise.

Types of Support

Instrumental support describes the actual actions of someone that helps someone else engage in behavior.


  • Providing transportation to a fitness facility
  • Paying for someone’s gym membership
  • Watching children to allow a parent to exercise

Emotional support is considered to be vital for people starting and continuing a program for exercise. It is in reference to encouragement and positive reinforcement provided and includes being both empathetic and caring and showing concern.


  • Encouraging someone to exercise
  • Providing positive feedback
  • Listening to someone when they are frustrated with exercise
  • Being empathetic by communicating an understanding of how someone feels

Informational support is when someone receives accurate information regarding a behavior and a topic.


  • Giving sound advice about how to achieve optimal health and fitness
  • Providing education about the current recommendations for physical activity
  • Educating people about the risk of poor health accompanying a sedentary lifestyle

Companionship Support is when someone engages in a behavior alongside another person.


  • Exercising with someone
  • Accompanying someone during an exercise session
  • Finding physically active options for social gatherings

Group Influences on Exercise

Groups play a large role in the decision-making process. Support can be given in the countless ways previously brought up, but it is also just as important who is providing this support. 


Family is one of the better influences for most behaviors in our life, especially when it comes to kids. And these influences remain strong throughout your life. 


The influences of parents on exercise behavior is important again for kids. When parents have a positive relationship with exercise, then their children will likely have a positive relationship also.

Exercise Leaders

Group exercise comes in so many forms and is found in many studio types. It is important to look at the different qualities and styles of the leader of exercise, as well as the situational factors and the qualities of the followers. 

The benefits of Group Exercise are:

  • Accountability
  • Comparison
  • Competition
  • Comradery
  • Consistency
  • Energy
  • Intensity
  • Mindless
  • Motivation
  • Sociability

Psychological Benefits of Exercise

Promotes a Positive Mood

The term mood refers to how someone is feeling, and it is considered to be a longer term state of mind, unlike that of emotion, which is shorter term. 

Improves Self-Esteem and Body Image

These two things are psychological variables associated with so many health concerns like depression, eating disorders, and exercise addiction.

Improves Sleep

Sleep is an important aspect of everyone’s day, and it decides more or less how someone will function throughout their day. 

Reduces Depression and Anxiety

Depression is a very common mental health issue and affects around 300 million people in the world. Anxiety can be associated with depression but may occur on its own.

NASM CPT 7th Edition Chapter 3: Psychology of Exercise 2
NASM CPT 7th Edition Chapter 3: Psychology of Exercise 3
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Tyler Read

Tyler Read, BSc, CPT. Tyler holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from Sonoma State University and is a certified personal trainer (CPT) with NASM (National Academy of sports medicine), and has over 15 years of experience working as a personal trainer. He is a published author of running start, and a frequent contributing author on Healthline and Eat this, not that.

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